Retired General Stanley McChrystal was a keynote speaker during the opening session of this year’s National Grocers Association show in Las Vegas. He was captivating and thought-provoking because he described lessons learned fighting Al Qaeda and other militant groups has application to fighting competition in businesses today.
First, he described that the US held every advantage in this conflict – in manpower, technology, intelligence and weaponry. However, the battles against Al Qaeda in Iraq went poorly and over a long period of time.
The retired general described how information and decisions on the US side followed a traditional organizational structure with decision-making at the top. Their enemies were a loose group of people, all interconnected by consumer technology and unburdened by an org chart or bureaucracy. When the US realized this, they changed their organizational chart into a matrix of action and the battle changed. Suddenly decisions were made quicker and people with knowledge from the front lines were more able to influence actions and results.
One of the lessons learnt is to empowering decisions makers at all levels and encouraging insights from all points of the organization. However, many believe this would be chaos as many leaders (both implied or with authority) would not know what each other is doing to win the battle. For the military, there was concern that giving more people the authority to approve bombing operations could have produced disastrous results.
Instead, the opposite happened. With more authority came additional accountability and as a result, the military’s precision improved because everyone became that much more careful with their own decisions.
We are in a chaotic field of battle (new competitors, lower barriers to entry, rapidly changing consumers, etc.). Finding a way to adapt to new challenges is what winners always do in business. Focus on what you can control and clearly articulate to your staff where are you going and why. Amazing things will result with a little faith in your staff.